Large special interests square off in District 30 Democratic primary  

Angel Charley and Clementes Sanchez are facing off in the June 4, 2024 primary for Senate Seat District 30. Images from their campaign literature. Many of the same special interests groups and big-money donors active in the 2020 primary race for Senate District 30 have returned for the 2024 election cycle as they seek to shape the ideological makeup of the Democratic Party. The race for the district — a sprawling district that encompasses all or parts of Isleta, Acoma, Laguna and Zuni pueblos as well as Alamo Navajo — features Clemente Sanchez, a former Democratic state lawmaker defeated in the 2020 primary, and political newcomer Angel Charley, a member of Laguna Pueblo and the Navajo Nation. 

The race showcases the power of moneyed interests and their willingness to square off to elect their preferred candidate.A review of campaign finance reports reveals that more than two thirds of the $60,000 Sanchez has raised for next week’s primary election has come from corporate interests, including the medical, energy, automobile and alcohol industries, as well as utilities and lobbyists. 

More than two thirds of Charley’s haul – $110,000 — has come from tribes, lawmakers, trial lawyers, or advocacy groups working on environmental, labor, reproductive health and other progressive issues. 

The winner of the June 4 Democratic primary election will face no Republican opponent in November’s general election. A retired banker who is also a registered lobbyist for the Continental Divide Electric Cooperative in Grants, Sanchez served in the Senate for two terms from 2012 to 2020.

Senators throw support to embattled Ivey-Soto

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto is running for a fourth term despite the state Democratic Party’s decision to censure and sever ties with him over sexual harassment and assault allegations, many of which were made by advocates of liberal causes. 

A spokesperson for the party confirmed last week the party has continued to bar Ivey-Soto from participating in its internal activities, a position first made public last August. But the party has stopped short of calling for him to resign. 

However, senior Democratic senators – including some of the most liberal – have thrown Ivey-Soto a lifeline in his contest with Heather Berghmans with big campaign contributions even as changing mores of the #MeToo era test the gender dynamics in the Roundhouse. 

Some of those senators say they support Ivey-Soto in the June 4 primary election because of his open mind and attention to detail in lawmaking and parliamentary procedure. The accusations, made public in February 2022 when progressive advocate and lobbyist Marianna Anaya issued an open letter saying Ivey-Soto groped her at a teachers union reception at a downtown Santa Fe hotel in 2015,  humbled the Albuquerque attorney who is known to toss invective in legislative debates, they say. 

Ivey-Soto has denied Anaya’s allegation — as well as another that he held up a voting rights bill Anaya lobbied for in January 2022 after she refused his advances over drinks at a downtown Santa Fe restaurant. 

But Anaya’s accusations set off cascading events that have Ivey-Soto scrambling to retain his Senate District 15 seat to represent Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights. 

An attorney retained by a Senate ethics subcommittee to investigate a formal complaint by Anaya concluded in 2022 that probable cause existed in two of the three allegations to trigger a public hearing by the full Senate ethics committee. But the subcommittee — composed of four of his fellow senators — instead closed the case. It’s unclear what other information they considered.

Democratic lawmaker defends campaign spending

Democrat State Rep. Ambrose Castellano in interviews justified expensing a trip to Hawaii, new vehicle tires and restaurant tabs of more than $1,000 to his campaign as not only allowable but necessary to perform his legislative and political duties.  

Castellano’s defense comes in response to the campaign of his primary opponent, Anita Gonzales, promoting a recent complaint to the State Ethics Commission as evidence that Castellano used campaign funds for personal expenses. But Castellano said in an interview he did not intend to break campaign spending rules and that he welcomes a fair review by the Ethics Commission. He called the complaint an attempt to discredit him as a Hispanic leader in the midst of the primary election campaign he is currently running. 

“I do very well for myself and I wouldn’t put myself in jeopardy in any situation to do something” that is not allowable, Castellano, who owns his own Santa Fe based construction business, said. 

Castellano is currently trying to fend off a challenge from Gonzales for the District 70 House seat in San Miguel and Torrance Counties in the June primary election. 

In the ethics complaint, Damon Ely, a former Democratic state representative and Albuquerque attorney, alleged Castellano spent thousands of his campaign funds on personal expenses going back to 2020. 

“Representative Castellano reports having reimbursed himself for $6,233.75 in gas around the state and in Texas. He spent a total of $8,101.79 for hotels in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Chama, and Honolulu. He shows having charged at least $14,773.52 in meals eating out over 135 times and 84 of them in Santa Fe, a district he does not represent,” Ely wrote in the complaint dated April 15, 2024.

Progressives going after incumbents in hot Democratic primaries

It’s a safe bet Democrats will barrel into 2025 with their supremacy intact at the New Mexico Legislature. Barring an unexpected shock during this year’s elections, Democrats’ stranglehold on power is assured.Going into the 2024 contests, Democrats control nearly two-thirds of all seats in the House and nearly three of every five seats in the Senate.The question going into the June primary election is whether the party’s progressive wing will continue to increase power in the Legislature or will more centrist Democrats hold ground.  This year’s effort by progressives is the latest in a long standing campaign, stretching back to the mid-2000s, to bring more progressives into the Legislature. In 2008, progressives successfully replaced a slate of centrist Democrats with newly minted candidates who are now political veterans, including the launch of current Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s political career, who joined the Senate that year. 

Because of this one-party dominance, the ideological fault lines within the Democratic Party have major policy implications on abortion, the environment, education and workplace issues like minimum wage and paid family and medical leave benefits. 

Progressive political candidates and committees have raised tens of thousands of dollars for bids to oust certain Democratic legislators in June’s primary election. 

New Mexico’s progressive political machine was buoyed dramatically in 2020 when insurgents unseated long-time Democratic incumbents viewed as more centrist or right of center. The first campaign finance reports filed April 8 show progressive insurgents amassing thousands in contributions from individuals.  And the efforts of progressive independent expenditure committees will undoubtedly benefit their campaigns. 

Incumbents hold an advantage in corporate money, with energy, healthcare and hospitality interests giving big.

Ivey-Soto bill raises conflict of interest questions

A bill meant to modernize New Mexico’s marriage laws would increase the money people pay to the state’s county clerks for a marriage license. Meanwhile, the bill’s sponsor, Democratic State Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, is paid by numerous county clerks on a contract basis for technical, legal and training services. 

As the State Ethics Commission investigates complaints made last year that accuse Ivey-Soto, in part, of using his position as a lawmaker to curry favor with his clients, lawmakers are considering Ivey-Soto’s House Bill 242. The legislation’s aim, according to Ivey-Soto and his co-sponsor, Rep. Doreen Gallegos, a Doña Ana County Democrat, is to dust Victorian era moral codes off New Mexico’s books. For instance, it would prohibit  marriage of 16 and 17 year olds, which are allowed with parental consent, to people more than four years older than they are. The bill also allows anyone over the age of 21 selected by the couple to officiate at a wedding.

How one influential NM powerbroker might have escaped a drunken driving charge

Just after midnight on May 20, Albuquerque Police Officer Joshua Montaño saw a luxury sedan veer into a turn bay blocked off by bright orange traffic barrels before it pulled back over a solid divider line onto an Interstate 25 frontage road. Montaño flipped on his emergency police lights and the 2004 Infiniti stopped in the parking lot of the Marriott Pyramid, a high-end hotel in Northeast Albuquerque. A veteran DWI cop who has conducted hundreds of drunken driving investigations, Montaño approached the vehicle on foot. He was armed with a slew of additional information gleaned from a police service aide and a concerned citizen: The Infiniti’s driver had swerved numerous times traveling northbound from downtown Albuquerque, he’d delayed proceeding through a green light by 10 seconds, he’d driven 10 mph under the posted speed limit, and he’d done it all with his headlights turned off. In the driver’s seat of the car was Ryan Flynn, 39, Gov. Susana Martinez’ former cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department, who left that job in 2016 to become executive director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.